Eighteenth Sunday, Year (A)
(Isaiah 55:1-3; Romans 8:35, 37-39; Matthew 14:13-21)
In the ancient world of the Gospel’s beginning Christians were mocked by the learning of Greece and persecuted by the power of Rome for proclaiming an exclusive, unique, God, Who had taken on human flesh: in which He suffered and died on the Cross before rising from the dead. And today Christians -- above all Catholics -- are mocked and reviled for proclaiming this Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life for human beings, whereas so many acclaimed philosophers, scientists, and scholars of this world repeat Pilate’s question, ‘What is Truth?’
Now, today’s Mass readings are a most pertinent guide for our situation as Catholic Christians living in an alien society and facing an increasingly hostile world for which the only acceptable criteria for human living are the morals of political correctness and the success engendered by money or guaranteed by popularity.
In Isaiah’s time, as you heard in the first reading, things were much the same: the success many people looked for in life was that of having ‘good things to eat and rich food to enjoy’, whilst worship of the most popular god from the local pantheon was the obvious way to walk easy together with plenty of comforting companions. But what did Isaiah proclaim in the name of the God of Israel:
Pay attention, come to me; listen, and your soul will live.
Leave your bawling, easy, and lusty, companions crowding to worship popular idols, turn aside and listen to Israel’s God speaking in the depths of your heart, hearken to the one true God Who alone can give true success to your life, success which consists not in amassing the things of earthly life -- things which for the most part clumber as much as they sustain bodily existence -- but in embracing real life itself: soul-life, transcendent and eternal life; far above and beyond what is merely earthly.
Today, our alien society and hostile world, along with their proclamation of success and popularity as the only criteria for a worth-while life, also assert that there is no god greater than mankind itself, there is nothing ‘higher’ than human thought and aspirations. And that is where the terror of secularism shows itself, since those who find themselves unsatisfied with occasional helpings of success or a padding of popularity are warned to like it or lump it since there is nothing else on offer … jump on to the band-wagon or else be left behind in your loneliness: there is no God Who wants to speak with you personally; there is nothing special about you that cannot be seen and appreciated by society around you; the only message for you is society’s message, in which the peer-pressure of schooldays is undisguisedly perpetuated and fulfilled.
Isaiah spoke of the God of Israel Whom no man could ever see and survive; a God, therefore, unseen indeed but not unknown, since He had been active in Israel’s history for over a thousand years; indeed, it was He Who had made Israel into a nation. In our second reading, however, this true but unseen God has taken on human flesh, becoming incarnate in Jesus Christ; and, it is on His behalf that St. Paul offers for our aspirations not a pottage of worldly success or social popularity, but that supreme blessing for the human heart and mind, which is the abiding love of the God Who made us and the Lord Who saves us:
Nothing can come between us and the love of Christ …. Nothing can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.
St. Paul offers us there a shield, a helmet of salvation, for our present situation:
Even if we are troubled or worried, or being persecuted, or lacking food or clothes or being threatened or even attacked …. These are (but) trials through which we triumph, by the power of Him who loved us.
From that you can appreciate why the spirits that rule our modern world and technological society are ever more hostile to Jesus: for He exercises power they will not acknowledge, because it is greater than anything they themselves can muster. Moreover, it is a power He exercises through people who appear to be nothing: because they fear, obey, and love, the God Who speaks with them in the depths of their conscience, Who mysteriously touches them in their daily experience of life, and Who has Personally triumphed over all the torments of the Cross and found life eternal.
Yes, People of God, we are increasingly regarded as aliens in today’s world and modern society because we are a peculiar People of Faith: faith in the God of conscience and Love; the God Who rules in our minds and hearts and reigns from the Cross.
However there is something that makes us yet more mysterious and suspicious to secular influences around us, for our Faith in God and Love for our Saviour is imbued with an unbounded Hope which springs up confidently within us from the Gospel proclamation you heard:
Jesus said to His disciples: There is no need for them (the hungry) to go: give them something to eat yourselves. He took the five loaves and two fish, raised His eyes to heaven and said the blessing. And breaking the loaves He handed them to His disciples who gave them to the crowds. They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected the scraps; remaining, twelve baskets full. Those who ate numbered about five thousand men, to say nothing of women and children.
There, of course, we see foreshadowed the Holy Eucharist in Mother Church, that sacrificial offering and sacramental banquet we are now in the process of celebrating. Holy Mass is, indeed, the source of our Hope, since here Jesus’ Self-sacrifice is our offering to the Father, and His Holy Spirit is the abiding, sacramental Gift of the Father and bequest of the Son, through Whom God’s life and power are at work in Mother Church and in our individual lives. And not in our lives only since Jesus’ disciples gathered up 12 baskets full of food left over, food suitable and sufficient for all God’s People (symbolically the 12 tribes of Israel) throughout time. And the divine life and power nourished by such food can neither be negated by human weakness nor thwarted by our sinfulness, because the Spirit is unfailingly able to raise up children of Mother Church who will not bend the knee to Satan; children whose Faith, Hope, and Love allow the Spirit to form them in the likeness of the Jesus Who said:
In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)